Do you find your power reliable? Today, it’s so easy for many of us to take electricity for granted, but the United States experiences more power outages than any other developed nation. As a country, our critical functions face detrimental downtime because we do not hold a fail-proof source of power. Along with increasing electricity rates and the negative environmental impacts we see from our grid system, it’s no surprise that many people are starting to shift away from traditional sources of power and looking for more reliable output for their homes and businesses.
According to findings from a study conducted by researchers from issues.org, the average U.S. resident loses power for 214 minutes every year. That compares to 70 minutes in the United Kingdom, 53 minutes in France, 29 minutes in the Netherlands, and 2 minutes every year in Singapore. In Japan, the average customer loses power once every 20 years. In the United States, it is once every 9 months, excluding times from hurricanes and other storms. So, why does the U.S. experience so many power outages? Here are the contributing factors to the rise of power-grid issues across the U.S. and the increasing need for backup power and solar energy.
How Does the Power Grid Work?
Before we understand what causes the unreliability of our current grid system here in the United States, it’s important to understand how our power grid operates as there are multiple steps in the energy transfer process.
There are hundreds of power plants throughout the country. The power plants are connected to transformers that enhance voltage and transmit electricity. These transformers are connected using high-voltage transmission lines that are used to carry the electricity for thousands of miles across the country. The next step is the neighborhood transformer. After the electricity travels the many miles to the neighborhood transformer, it is then transmitted to the smaller, lower, voltage lines. That energy is then distributed throughout the specific area in safe amounts through the power poles and lines similar to the ones you see in your neighborhood.
What are the Reasons Behind Power Grid Failure?
While America’s energy grid is powerful, its problems are on the rise, making alternative energy and backup power necessary for residential and business success. The most common types of problems for power grids across the United States are:
1. Failing Infrastructure
As equipment ages, it becomes more unreliable, creating the need for renovations and upgrades. If these necessary renovations aren’t completed, the result is ongoing power outages. Additionally, our current grid system is not compatible with our increases in population and energy consumption.
2. Natural Disasters
Severe storms, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters cause damage and grid disruption. And when climate change events are added onto the already aging infrastructure, the result is significant downtime for homes and businesses.
3. Power Grid Hackers
The increasing threat of hackers capable of gaining access to our grid and causing a disruption of power is another factor affecting the stability of our grid system. According to a study by a U.S. security firm, hackers were able to obtain control of the power interfaces of various power companies. This gives hackers the ability to stop the flow of electricity into our homes and businesses. Intruders gaining access to grid operations is a significant threat that can lead to blackouts on American soil.
4. Human Error
Human error incidents are the last factor contributing to power outages. The human error stems from a lack of training of power system technicians and staff, hindering their abilities to handle outages and take control of proper maintenance procedures.
These interruptions in our supply are no longer just an inconvenience. As the frequency and duration of these outages continue to climb, as do the costs and disadvantages. Information systems and social services like police, emergency response services, and telecommunications rely on electricity to function at minimally acceptable levels.
Is Going Solar a Smart Solution to Combating the Instability of the Power Grid?
The more homes and businesses that are powered by solar energy, the less demand there is on our electric grid. A less-strained electric grid is likely to have fewer power outages than highly-strained grids. If our communities were fully solar powered, less demand on conventional energy would yield fewer outages.
It is important to note that solar panels will not power your home when the grid is down unless you are off the grid and you have battery backup. Batteries allow you to store the excess electricity your solar system generates for you to use later when you need it. Beyond saving money, solar panels and backup batteries to house excess energy production can protect us from power outages. The technology behind going solar with a battery requires the installation of a sufficient battery (or batteries) along with your solar panels.
Grid-Tied vs. Off-Grid Solar
The primary difference between grid-tied and off-grid solar lies in the storage of the energy your solar system produces. Grid-tied systems send the electricity to the power grid and in return, your utility company credits your account for the unused power. Off-grid systems have no access to the power grid and require the backup batteries mentioned above for storing your excess energy.
If your system is not connected to the grid, you are unable to receive solar incentives. For this reason, we do not recommend fully going off the grid. Off-grid solar systems are usually more expensive than the grid-tied systems because the batteries they require are more substantial. It is also recommended to invest in a gas or propane-powered generator for your off-grid system just in case you need emergency power at nighttime.
Regardless of what you decide, shifting away from the unreliable power grid and taking control of where your power comes from is a smart choice. As a consumer, you will not only achieve significant financial savings from getting solar and storage, but you’ll also obtain a much-needed level of security and consistency that will keep your power running when you need it most.
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